In my stumble through contemporary landscape photographers I recently found Alec Soth, and particularly his recent photo book ‘Songbook‘ in which he is exploring physical social interactions in a world of social media.
I’m still digging into the rich world of Alec Soth, there’s lots to go at! His self published book ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi‘ caught the attention of the curators of the Whitney Biennial in 2004 and his inclusion in the exhibition launched him on a larger stage. The image above from his ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’ project was used for the poster for the exhibit. He became a nominee of the Magnum Photos agency in 2004 and a full member in 2008. Since his first book in 2004 he has produced over 20 others, including Songbook, and a number in collaboration with writer Brad Zellar. He founded the publishing company Little Brown Mushroom in 2008 to publish his own books and those of others interested in a similar narrative approach to telling visual stories. A very busy guy!
See Alec talk more about his work in the videos below.
It never ceases to amaze me how small our world now is. That we can easily get on a plane and travel to almost anywhere, even some of the most remote places in the world, is something that continues to fascinate me. Many of my photographer friends have been to the polar regions of the world, particularly Antarctica, and the discussion between them is when they are going to go back.
Being in the presence of ‘big ice’ has yet to capture my imagination in a way that pulls me to the ends of the earth. Until the time that it does I’m happy to enjoy the work of photographers such as Camille Seaman who have spent time in these places.
Camille is part Shinnecock Native American Tribe and is using photography to explore her connectedness with the world, which in many ways is an extension of the things that she was taught by her paternal grandfather. Her 10 years of visits to the Arctic and Antarctic have been collected into a book ‘Melting Away‘ that is well worth spending some time with.
See Camille talking about her polar project ‘The Last Iceberg’ in the TED talk below. Also see Camille share a few few thoughts on her process as well as a longer talk that gives more detail on her background as well as her projects.
As I look around for ‘how to’ resources for lightroom and photoshop one of the people that I continually come back to is Julieanne Kost. Julieanne is the Principal Digital Imaging Evangelist for Adobe Systems, which means that she spends much of her time on the road speaking at conferences and teaching how to get the most out of lightroom and photoshop. I recently worked through her ‘Advance Photoshop Layers‘ course on the CreativeLive site which was excellent. She’ll be teaching during the upcoming Photoshop week on CreativeLive which will be worth checking out.
Many of the examples that Julieanne uses during her demonstrations are from her personal projects. Her book Window Seat is quite interesting and now available as a digital book. Well worth a look. It’s the photoillustrations, such as the one above, that of course really capture my attention given my interest in assembling images from parts. Check out the videos below to see more of how these are constructed:
Often as a beginning photographer you will hear the admonishment, ‘get it right in camera’, this is good advice when your starting out. It provides a restriction, a box to work in, and edges to push up against. It forces you to think about what is the subject, how do you frame the subject so that everyone knows what the subject it, are there lines that you can use to lead the eye through the image and on an on. A multitude of decisions to make on the fly that with practice become second nature, an instinct and perhaps one of the reasons that it can be so hard for some to teach what they are clearly so capable of doing.
I find that I am increasingly less interested in getting it right in camera and more interested in making sure that I’ve captured enough of the scene in front of me to be able to recreate what I felt when I was there. I’ll shoot different shutter speeds to capture waves with just the right amount of blur, I’ll focus at different points in the image so that I can get good front to back depth of field and I’ll shoot a lot of frames. I’ve actually been doing this for a while and it’s taking some time for my post-processing skills to catch up with what I’d felt and imagined I would be able to create when I was stood in various places around the world blasting away.
Brooke creates worlds that ‘she wishes we could live in, where secrets float out in the open, where the impossible becomes possible’, often using herself as the model for the photograph. She is able to create these new worlds using relatively simple techniques in photoshop.
Looking at some of the behind the scenes videos on her You Tube channel made me realize how much you could do if you just understood just a few of the tools in photoshop deeply. Watch Brooke in action and hear her talk about her work and process in the videos below.
I’ve been thinking about creativity a lot in recent weeks, about ‘making’ images rather than ‘capturing them’ and about realizing your voice. To me Keith Carter’s work and particularly his evolution as a photographer is an interesting case study in this. His subject matter is wide ranging but most often draw the his surroundings in his native Texas – the children, people and animals. His approach seems to me at least to have evolved substantially over the years from relatively straight photography, to (mis)use of a tilt shift to give interest shallow depth of field effects to the increasingly grungy images of recent years.
I was interested in the video tour of his house below to hear and see that he deosn’t follow the often heard suggestion of live with your work but rather he surrounds himself with the things and work from others that inspire him and fill the well. Check out the tour of his house, the profile of Keith and finally listen to him talk about his work and his evolution as a photographer in the videos below.
In continuing my exploration of Japanese photographers I recently came across Nobuyuki Kobayashi. Kobayashi may be most well known for his work in magazines as a portrait photographer or for his humanitarian work but what caught my attention were his black and white landscapes. Landscape might be the wrong word, since for many it evokes the grand view and Kobayashi’s work offers a much subtler take on the land. He feels that he is taking portraits of the Gods and this delicate approach certainly comes through in the work of his that I’ve seen so far.
I find his process intriguing – use of an 8×10 large format camera, film and printing on traditional Japanese paper, washi. I’ve tried printing on washi in the past and found that the heavy intrinsic texture works against many subjects but Kobayashi seems to be making it work. It rails against the increasingly small format, mirrorless digital cameras and yet his choice of materials that should last for hundreds of years supports his goal of using photography as a tool to preserve the beauty of the natural world.
Over the last week or so I’ve been making a list of my top 12 influences, visual artists and their work that influence and inspire me. Consistently over the years Hiroshi Sugimoto has made this list. Born in Japan, Sugimoto moved to the US to study in the mid-70’s eventually settling in New York. While he’s returned to a number of subjects repeatedly over the years, including ‘American Theatres’ in which he photographs old movie theaters and drive ins using long exposures in an attempt to show time in his photographs; ‘Dioramas’ which are beautifully executed photographs of exhibitions in natural history museums and more recently of wax-work figures; ‘Architecture’ in which he photographs structures slightly out of focus which gives a sense of the form that the architect had in mind without you getting lost in the details and my personal favorite ‘Seascapes’. His seascapes, such as the one above, give a real sense of the vastness of the ocean that particularly appeals to me.
Check out the documentary below for more about Sugimoto’s life and work.
I wanted to thank everyone for the comments last week – it’s nice to hear that many of us are on the same path. I particularly appreciated Sabrina Henry highlighting Ray Ketcham’s blog post ‘Art is not pointing‘. The post underscores the point quite eloquently that our work is part of a conversation that has been going on for centuries and that we need to have an appreciation of the ideas and issues that have been explored if we are to be part of that conversation. Well worth a read!
As I continue to paddle around looking for connections and parallels in the work of others I’ve been thinking about other art forms particularly writing. The similarity between writing and photography has been noted by others but continues to amaze me. For instance take a look at Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’, every time he mentions writing substitute photography and you’ll have a great guide to the photographic life.
If I were to pick a genre of writing that my photography is most like it would be poetry – ‘Visual Poetry’ anyone? Chris Orwig of course wrote the book on ‘Visual Poetry‘ – it’s not only a great read but also contains lots of useful exercises.
If we pick up the what is the purpose of art question from last week and ask ‘Why Write Poetry’ and ‘Why Read Poetry’ and then looking to the interwebs for an answer there are a number of interesting interviews with poets that have useful things to say. This interview with Jane Hirshfield in particular resonated strongly with me. There were a couple of points where I really felt as though she was in my head. I’ve been trying to articulate my thoughts about what I’m looking for in my photographs – an image that surprises me, while it makes sense to me is hard for other people to grasp. Hirshfield says of poetry:
‘Poetry is a release of something previously unknown into the visible. You write to invite that, to make of yourself a gathering of the unexpected and, with luck, of the unexpectable.’
This is captures what I’m trying for with my images in a way that I’ve never before been able to say. There are more juicy bits in this interview such as:
‘One reason to write a poem is to flush from the deep thickets of the self some thought, feeling, comprehension, question, music, you didn’t know was in you, or in the world.’
‘You can’t write an image, a metaphor, a story, a phrase, without leaning a little further into the shared world, without recognizing that your supposed solitude is at every point of its perimeter touching some other’
‘…good art is a truing of vision, in the way that a saw is trued in the saw shop, to cut more cleanly. And that anything that lessens our astigmatisms of being or makes more magnificent the eye, ear, tongue, and heart cannot help but help a person better meet the larger decisions that we, as individuals and in aggregate, ponder.’
All of this is starting to make me feel a little more comfortable with a role for my work, certainly in the creation of it, as a tool to connect more deeply with the world in general.
As always I appreciate your thoughts and comments and would be delighted to hear what you make of all this.
I’ve been interested in film making for a very long time, almost as long as I’ve been interested in photography. I never really engaged in film making in a meaningful way but it’s something that always has stayed in the background as something that I pay attention to.
I have yet to figure out how to integrate film making and photography. While the skills of making a still image and framing a film shot may be complementary (see Greg Crewdson’s work as an example) if you’re taking video your not taking photographs and vice versa. Of course increasingly the DSLRs that we have a very capable video cameras making this back and forth much easier. I’ve seen some photographers talk recently about the ‘long still’, videos that were taken with the same set up that had been used to take a still. Easily done once you’ve got the image you were interested in, just a button push away. Something to think about and experiment with if you haven’t already.
I’m more interested in documentary film making, particularly telling the story of people making things – explorations of artists and their process is a particularly appealing topic to me. Of course I could use DSLRs to do this but my imagination was captured by the possibilities with the iPhone and in particular the app FilmicPro.
There also some third party add-ons that help when using the iPhone as a video camera. Susan Roderick from CreativeLive reviews some of the better ones here.
As I was packing my gear into the car after photographing at a beach in California a few weeks ago a couple arrived and unpacked their camera gear. They had what looked like an iPhone on a video tripod I of course asked what the camera was – it turned out to be a black magic pocket. I’d seen ads for the Black Magic cameras but wasn’t familiar with the pocket model.
The pocket camera body is essentially the size of an iPhone but capable of hi-res video and very flexible in terms of third party add ons. The pocket camera has four thirds lens mount but using available adapters you could use your existing lenses on the camera. This then starts to sound very interesting indeed – high quality digitial cinema cameras without any need to buy new lenses. The pocket black magic camera isn’t much bigger than an iPhone and could easily fit into my camera bag.
You have to jump up to the ‘regular size’ Black Magic cameras are capable of recording 4K video, the resolution where it starts to be possible pull a single frame and use that as a large print. Check out this link for more about that. Hopefully this will soon make it’s way into the pocket model too.
I’m surprised that I haven’t heard more about this idea of pulling stills from video, perhaps I’ve just had my head in the sand and ignored this as an option but I anticipate hearing more about this as the technology improves and the price continues to drop. It certainly seems worth exploring and solves the problem of how you could integrate film making with photography.
I had a chance to look at some of Edward Hopper’s paintings of scenes from small town America over the Christmas break and couldn’t help but be reminded of the work of Gregory Crewdson. Like Hopper’s paintings, Crewdson’s photography shows scenes from small town America. They are vignettes that raise questions, that invite you in to wonder what happened before and what will happen next.
Many people will talk about their photographs being ‘cinematic’ but Crewdson’s images could really be stills from a movie. The work that goes into setting up each of the shots is not far from what you might expect for a cinematic production. You get a glimpse behind the scenes in the videos below. The second video is a trailer for the documentary ‘Brief Encounters‘ filmed over a 10 year period it gives not only an in depth look at what goes into the making of the work but also a sense of the events and experiences that shaped Crewdson the man.